Ryanair Chase Preview
Since its introduction in 2005, The Ryanair Chase has divided opinion as to whether it should even exist at The Festival but there can be no doubt surrounding the quality of this year’s edition. To my eye it looks an absolute cracker and a case can be made for plenty of runners. Last year’s winner Min comes here after a blip at Leopardstown and will have to fend off the new kids on the block. Last season’s novice chasers have assembled in their numbers to take his crown. Allaho, Imperial Aura, Samcro, Melon, Mister Fisher and Fakir D’oudaries all look set to take their chance, whilst King George fourth and last seasons runner up Saint Calvados is back for more. If the Ryanair hasn’t convinced some fans thus far, this year’s renewal will change their minds!
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 5/1
Earmarked as a future Gold Cup horse in the early parts of his career, Allaho has finished third in both the Albert Bartlett and RSA at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. A big, raw, scopey horse, he appears to be to be a galloping machine but unfortunately tends to run too freely over three miles and subsequently hasn’t been the strongest finisher. A poor run on reappearance in the John Durkan was followed by an average fourth in The Savills Chase, but Allaho took a big step back in the right direction when defeating Elimay last time out. Townend popped him out in front and Allaho powered home from the front. Elimay threatened to take him down jumping the last but Allaho kicked on again and ran out a game winner. The step back to the intermediate trip looked key and he looks sure to go from the front, attempting to run the finish out of his rivals. For all I think this is the right move trip wise, I do have my concerns about his jumping, given he is likely to try and dominate this field. He can plough through the top of the odd fence and with the likes of Melon and Min potentially close-up, he may find himself outjumped and bustled along at times.
Trainer: Kim Bailey
Current Odds: 6/1
Since sent chasing in 2019, Imperial Aura has looked a horse going from strength to strength. Already rated 163, he still falls into the category of slightly unexposed and potentially still improving. Reappearing at Carlisle in a second season novices chase, Imperial Aura bossed a high-class field and quickly entered the Ryanair picture. Pitched into Grade 2 company on his next start at Ascot, Imperial Aura wowed with his jumping and kept on strongly to beat Itchy Feet by 5 lengths. An early faller on his last start, I would be inclined to forgive him that, as prior to that fall he has been an extremely good jumper. Coming into a race like The Ryanair on the back of a fall is far from ideal but I would be more worried about his form. Windsor Avenue and Itchy Feet have finished second to him this season and both have been soundly beaten since. Impressive course form will hold him in good stead, but this is by far his toughest task to date and I would worry whether he’s up to it at this stage in his career.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 6/1
Defending Champion, Min, was quite simply brilliant in this race last year, seeing off the late challenge of Saint Calvados to finally get his Cheltenham win. In my opinion he has always been a tad underrated, mainly thanks to a certain Altior, but since operating at the intermediate trip he has been outstanding. His 2019 Melling Chase win was one the standout performances in recent times and despite being a 10-year-old now, Min returned to win his third John Durkan in December. Taking his usual route via the Dublin Festival, Min never looked comfortable back at 2 miles and his jumping subsequently suffered. Patrick decided to pull him up and I would be inclined to forget that run now back at two and a half miles. I do however worry about his John Durkan form. The fog was awful that day but according to Patrick Mullins he was headed by Tornado Flyer before gamely fighting back to win. Tornado Flyer has since been beaten 37 lengths by A Plus Tard in the Savills at Christmas and then 15 lengths by Chacun Pour Soi at The Dublin Racing Festival. Now he didn’t run at two and a half miles on either occasion, so you might not take the form too literally, but it surely begs the question whether Min is the quite the force of old?
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 8/1
Ever the bride’s maid and never the bride, Melon looks to make it fifth time lucky at Cheltenham this year. Runner up in the Supreme, Champion Hurdle twice and last year’s Marsh, Melon clearly loves Prestbury Park but hasn’t quite been able to get his head in front. He has never been a horse to sparkle through the winter, but I think this year he has shown a bit more than in previous years. A third placed reappearance in the John Durkan was backed up by a seriously good performance in the Savills Chase when trying three miles for the first time. Melon was flying along, jumping brilliantly down the back straight. He made a mess of the second last and duly just got reeled in by A Plus Tard and Kemboy. Kemboy franked the form next time out in the Irish Gold Cup where Melon disappointed, but you can ignore that run as they tried hold up tactics which Melon clearly hated. The drop back in trip and return to Cheltenham will really suit and I am sure both the cheekpieces and front running tactics will be employed. Front runners have an exceptional record in this, and Melon can put up yet another bold bid at Prestbury Park.
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Current Odds: 10/1
Only a 6-year-old, Fakir D’oudairies seems to have been around for years! He burst onto the scene with a fine juvenile win at Cheltenham in January 2019 and has since flourished over fences. A fine novice season last year, culminated in a good second in The Arkle and Fakir D’oudairies has since stepped into open company nicely. A one paced second on reappearance prompted connections to step him up significantly in trip for The Savills Chase where he was pulled up, but Josephs horses weren’t running well at the time and you can forgive him the run. Stepped back down to 2 miles on his last start, he ran a great race behind Chacun Pour Soi and it may well be that the intermediate trip is exactly what he wants. We know he handles the track and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run a big race should connections opt to come here ahead of the Champion Chase.
Trainer: Harry Whittington
Current Odds: 10/1
Harry Whittington has always considered Saint Calvados a serious horse and he repaid his trainers faith with a brilliant second placed finish in this race last year. He jumped and travelled beautifully before just failing to peg back Min late on. Reappearing in The King George, Saint Calvados travelled way too keenly but still came swinging into the home straight. He faded into fourth but this did represent a fine comeback run. Unseating at the midway stage in the rearranged Cotswold Chase, he is a hard horse to assess coming into this year’s renewal. If he reproduces his run in the race from 12 months ago, he must have a chance, but on what we’ve seen this season he doesn’t represent a solid option.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 10/1
Mister Fisher has long been a horse Nicky Henderson has held in the highest of regards. The best of the British in last year’s Marsh, Mister Fisher pulled up on his reappearance run in The Paddy Power Gold Cup. The ground was a bit of a bog that day and Nicky is on record stating he wants good ground, so you can forgive him this run. Returning to Prestbury Park for the rearranged Grade 2 Peterborough Chase, Mister Fisher once again had to encounter soft ground, but it did seem a lot better than on his previous visit. He jumped and travelled like an excellent horse before making a fiddley mistake at the last. Kalashnikov looked to be coming to get him, but Mister Fisher found more and went on to win, going away the line. I’ve no doubt he’ll stay further in time which should suit the style of a Ryanair and the return to spring ground is sure to bring about more improvement. Kalashnikov ran a big race in the Denman Chase, so the form has worked out well too. Mister Fisher will have to turn around last year’s Marsh form with the likes of Samcro and Melon but given his age, he surely possesses great scope for improvement and on good Spring ground must enter calculations.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Current Odds: 14/1
At the time of writing, I am unsure as to whether we will even get to see the enigma that is Samcro. Nevertheless, he is worth a mention and Spring ground looks key to him at this stage in his career. The big field is likely to suit his style of running and just like last year in the Marsh, I would not be surprised to see him bounce back. Money for him on the day would be extremely interesting and exciting!
Former Troytown winner, Chris’s Dream looks a lively outsider at odds of 20/1 given his official rating matches those towards the head of the betting. He will need the rain to come to been seen at his best though. The highly likeable Dashel Drasher is worth a mention despite connections seemingly favouring a crack at Aintree over Cheltenham. This horse doesn’t know when he is beat and could be a big price should connections have a change of heart. Kalashnikov is another who may swerve Cheltenham but on a form line through Mister Fisher may look overpriced at around the 25/1 mark. Willie Mullins will run what he can and I’d expect to see Tornado Flyer line up here. Should he return to his John Durkan form with Min, he could be a massive price at 33/1.
Crunching The Numbers
- 12 of the 16 winners were aged 7, 8 or 9
- 15 of the 16 winners were 8/1 or lower
- 15 of the 16 winners had a previous festival run, with 12 of them having multiple
- 13 of the 16 were course winners
- 15 of the 16 winners last win was by no more than 6 lengths
As is the competitive nature of this year’s Ryanair, I am not surprised to see plenty score well on the trends. Imperial Aura and Mister Fisher are the two to complete the full house whilst Allaho, Melon, Saint Calvados and Samcro all score 4/5. Fakir D’oudairies comes off worst from the contenders, failing to tick the age trend being a 6-year-old and his last win being by 22 lengths.
As is the competitive nature of this year’s Ryanair, I believe the outcome may depend on the start. I expect to see stablemates Allaho and Melon make the running but there may be quite the tussle on for who sits prominent. Min, Fakir D’oudairies, Imperial Aura and Mister Fisher have sat prominent in recent starts and as a result I can see a few taking wide passages early on. Saint Calvados and Samcro, should he run, look sure to stalk off the pace. Allaho, stepping down from three miles, will have to make this a relentless end to end gallop, but I think he may be outjumped by Melon early on, and subsequently may find himself forcing things from an early stage. I really like Melon to run a big race from the front and would like to think he’ll still be there turning for home. Both him and Allaho represent antepost bets for me but I fear both will be there to be shot at coming up the Cheltenham Hill. Min, Imperial Aura, Fakir D’oudairies and Mister Fisher will be waiting to pounce, and should we have Spring ground, I believe Mister Fisher may be the one to power on. I would just worry whether Imperial Aura and Fakir D’oudairies are Grade 1 horses at this stage in their careers and I do have a slight question mark about Min still being at his very best. Melon, Mister Fisher and Allaho can fight it out up the Cheltenham Hill.
My Idea of the Winner
- Melon 8/1
Each Way Play
- Mister Fisher 8/1 and/or Samcro 14/1 if he runs
- Mister Fisher
By Sam Rideout
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